Rima Marrouch : “Living with checkpoints”
Checkpoints have become a powerful tool by the Syrian regime to suppress the population and increase the climate of fear in the country.
Until a year ago, Syrians did not face checkpoints. They existed in neighboring Lebanon–as it was occupied by the Syrian army for more than two decades–but not in Syria. Now they occur inside and outside of Syrian cities and throughout highways, making checkpoints a daily reality.
If you are wanted, say activists, the way to avoid troubles is to carry someone’s else ID.
“You are asked for your ID and soldiers carry a list,” says Youssef, a Syrian journalist who was detained at a checkpoint in Damascus in April 2011. “If your family name and hometown give a hint of an opposition, they check your name on the list.”
When Youssef was picked up, he was carrying his laptop and a hard drive with 62 short videos he shot in Deraa, as well as footage of protests in Douma. He was detained for more than a month, interrogated and beaten.
“If you are from Homs, Deraa, Idlib, or Hama, and you are in Damascus, you are immediately a suspect and they check you,” he says. “Now, whenever I pass a checkpoint, I feel fear.”
Movement and traffic has become increasingly difficult because of the number of checkpoints. About 13 checkpoints are present on the road between Deraa and Damascus alone. Dozens of checkpoints are in Homs, according to Yazan, an activist there. To avoid trouble, activists have created maps marking checkpoints around the city. Knowledge of checkpoints are also very useful for opposition forces.
“During attacks on checkpoints, the Free Syrian Army gets weapons and ammunition,” says Mohammad Fizo, an activist in southern Turkey.
Security checkpoints are typically established in hotspots and strategic areas. There are two types of checkpoints in Syria: military and security.
“On average, usually there are 4-6 people, depending on the checkpoint,” Youssef says. “It is easy to differentiate military and security checkpoints. Security forces wear a mix of civilian and military clothes.”
Some Syrians complain that checkpoints bring more danger than security. Um Kinan, a shop-owner in a village near Homs, says she became fearful when a checkpoint appeared at the entrance of her village. Since then clashes are more frequent.
“We don’t sleep,” she says. “There are often clashes at the checkpoints between the government forces and rebels. We were safer when the checkpoint was not there.”
Edits: Andrew Bossone
Photo : A woman who lost her son during a demonstration in Douma
Rima Marrouch is a Syrian-Polish freelance reporter. She was brought up in Homs in the 90s, when Homs was a happier place. She has reported from Libya and Syria for the LA Times. She also worked for the “Committee to Protect Journalists/Middle East and North Africa Program”. Today, she is based in Lebanon, in Beirut.
You can follow Rima on Twitter and write her under @RimaMarr.blog comments powered by Disqus